Res­i­dents take ac­tion to im­prove their cen­tral Athens neigh­bor­hood

Kathimerini English - - Life - BY DIM­ITRIS RIGOPOU­LOS

Most peo­ple know it as Kara­man­laki Square, but the for­mal name of this spot be­tween Amerikis and Ko­li­at­sou squares in the Athe­nian neigh­bor­hood of Kato Patis­sia is Kal­liga Square, named af­ter the once-mighty landowner Pav­los Kal­li­gas.

What makes Kal­liga Square stand out in this once pros­per­ous and now de­graded part of the Greek cap­i­tal is that in the 1930s it was the sub­ject of a town-plan­ning ex­per­i­ment that man­dated a par­tic­u­lar style for all new con­struc­tions as well as a front court­yard, trans­form­ing the square and its sur­round­ing streets into an oa­sis.

It doesn’t take an ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­rian to see that Kal­liga Square still con­tains some of the last ves­tiges of one of Athens’s finest mo­ments, though that is not to say it has not gone the way of its neigh­bors, as the en­tire area has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing so­cial de­cline since the 1970s, some­thing which has been ex­ac­er­bated by the cur­rent eco­nomic cri­sis.

How­ever, in re­sponse to the grad­ual drop in prop­erty prices as a re­sult of the degra­da­tion, a num­ber of lo­cals formed a group last Septem­ber, the Pav­los Kal­li­gas Square Res­i­dents As­so­ci­a­tion, with the aim of de­fend­ing their neigh­bor­hood. Their pri­mary concern was safety, as they had wit­nessed a rise in crime in cer­tain parts of the area, to which the state and the City of Athens ap­peared un­able to re­spond ef­fec­tively.

Parts of the area have be­come no-go zones for res­i­dents, es­pe­cially at night, while the past few years have also seen a spike in mug­gings, bur­glar­ies, il­le­gal street trade and a ris­ing num­ber of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants tak­ing up res­i­dence in aban­doned build­ings or low-rent ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The as­so­ci­a­tion, how­ever, does not lay all the blame for the sit­u­a­tion at the feet of state, lament­ing in­stead the in­dif­fer­ence of many lo­cals to­ward the grow­ing prob­lems.

The first or­der of busi­ness for the as­so­ci­a­tion was to send an open letter to the prime min­is­ter out­lin­ing the prob­lems of Kal­liga Square and also to meet with Athens Mayor Gior­gos Kami­nis when he as­sumed of­fice in Jan­uary. Mean­while, it has also reached out to pri­vate com­pa­nies and groups for help, such as for se­cur­ing street light­ing and for or­ga­niz­ing cul­tural and com­mu­nity events.

The next ac­tion will be a street party in the square on Wed­nes­day, June 1.

“We have no party af­fil­i­a­tions, no dogma or ide­ol­ogy, and among the many dif­fer­ent viewpoints that each of us brings to the ta­ble, there is one that unites us: the need for a safe and dig­ni­fied way of life for ev­ery­one,” the as­so­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment.

The Pav­los Kal­li­gas Square Res­i­dents As­so­ci­a­tion is a grass­roots ini­tia­tive formed last Septem­ber to help curb the steady de­cline of the cen­tral Athe­nian neigh­bor­hood.

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